Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Wed, May 09, 2012

B.R. ranks No. 20 for manufacturing pay

An extensive report from The Brookings Institution on manufacturing in America’s 100 largest metro areas says Baton Rouge boasts the 20th-best average pay for those in the industry, at $68,522 annually, according to 2010 figures. Topping the list is the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., metro, where the average worker makes $144,899 a year. The report, which Brookings says is the most complete look at manufacturing by region released to date, says Baton Rouge’s sole leading manufacturing sector is specialized chemicals. Access the full report and get more details at the Brookings website here. Meanwhile, an unrelated report released today from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration says total hourly compensation for manufacturing workers is 17% higher than for non-manufacturing workers. The report, titled "The Benefits of Manufacturing Jobs," also finds the share of manufacturing workers with more than a high school degree has been steadily increasing, with more than half of all manufacturing workers holding at least some college education. You can check out that report in its entirety here.

Louisiana graded 'C-' for support of working parents, study says

Released just in time for Mother’s Day, a new analysis of states’ support of working parents gives Louisiana a below-average grade of "C-." "Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents" was conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families, which calls its work "the most comprehensive analysis to date of state laws and regulations governing paid leave and workplace rights for new parents in the United States." The study says, "Louisiana’s grade is striking, considering that women make up 48% of the workforce in the state, and 69% of Louisiana children live in families in which all parents work." Regardless, the complete state-by-state grades indicate Louisiana is doing more for working parents than most states. None got an "A" grade, and just two—California and Connecticut—got an "A-." Eight states landed in the "B" range, four were given a "C+" and just one got a "C." No Southern state got a better grade than Louisiana, and most were given an "F"—with 18 states total getting a failing grade. You can check out the complete 62-page study here.

White: Zachary's decision to opt out of scholarship 'based on false information'

Shortly after word broke today that Zachary Community School District would opt out of the state's new school scholarship program and would not accept any students from other, less-successful school districts—beyond 30 kindergarten and first-grade students whom it had already agreed to take in—Louisiana Secretary of Education John White released a statement saying the school district's decision is "based on false information." "Scholarship students accepted by public schools ranked 'A' or 'B' bring with them their full MFP funding, a state average of $8,500, not $4,000, as was reported," White says in a prepared statement, referring to an article in The Advocate that attributes the $4,000 figure to Zachary Superintendent Warren Drake, who cited finances as the reason the district was opting out. "The scholarship program is thus not only the right thing to do for 'A and 'B' schools, but also a prudent financial decision. I urge Zachary and districts statewide to do the right thing for children and join the program." The Zachary district is the lone one in the state with an 'A' rating and has been the highest-performing district in the state for seven straight years.

$325M borrowing plan for rural roads near complete

A $325 million borrowing plan to repair and upgrade rural roads across Louisiana is near final legislative passage. The proposal by Jonesboro Rep. Jim Fannin is up for a House vote today. If approved there, it heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who supports it. Every parish but Orleans Parish would be eligible for the highway repair money, which would pay for work on roads not eligible for federal matching dollars in the highway program. The proposal would let the Department of Transportation and Development borrow dollars by selling bonds to investors for upfront cash. The debt would be paid off with interest over 20 years with a pot of money from registration, license fees, and taxes on commercial trucks and trailers.

USPS: Rural post offices will not be closed

The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service sought today to tamp down concern over wide-scale cuts, revealing it will seek to keep thousands of rural post offices open with shorter hours. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says the mail agency is backing off its plan to close up to 3,700 low-revenue post offices—most of them in rural areas and the only USPS facility in the immediate area—sometime after May 15. Citing strong community opposition, Donahoe says the agency will whittle down full-time staff but maintain a part-time post-office presence in rural areas, with access to retail lobbies and post-office boxes. Under the emerging strategy, no post office would be closed. But more than 13,000 rural mail facilities could see reduced operations of between two and six hours. The Postal Service intends to seek regulatory approval and get community input, a process that could take several months. The new strategy would then be implemented over two years and completed in September 2014, saving an estimated half billion dollars annually. Along with the move to winnow rural post offices, closure of some 254 processing facilities as a cost-saving measure was also previously announced. Among them was a New Orleans mail-sorting facility, which was said to be slated for consolidation with another in Baton Rouge. It is not yet clear whether today’s announcement has any bearing on that plan. Read the full story by The Associated Press here.

Obama allied with energy industry in backing natural gas

Bloomberg reports an unlikely group of co-conspirators with the administration of President Barack Obama was recently huddled around a West Wing table. One participant had been fighting Obama’s proposal to raise taxes by $24 billion on oil companies; another had complained that a federal labor board is hampering hiring; a third pushed Congress to repeal Obama’s provision to clean up pollution from boilers. On the one issue they were called to discuss on that April day, however, they could rally around the Democratic administration: its recent embrace of natural gas. For a president who has drawn withering criticism from the energy industry on issues ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to environmental restrictions on coal-fired power plants, the White House meeting—and a series of decisions that followed—illustrate his embrace of one fossil fuel. While Obama put his initial emphasis as president on boosting solar panels and wind turbines, natural gas is now front and center even as skepticism about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is rising among Obama’s environmental allies such as the Sierra Club. "They’re more responsive, and they’re listening more closely to our views," says Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute in Washington and one of the participants in that meeting. "The energy and economic reality is starting to sink in." Read the full story here.

News roundup: Obama voices his personal support for gay marriage … Parks Service pins Army on question of N.O. levee sites … Applications open for upcoming SeNSE Pitch Night

Political gamble: Ending months of equivocation, President Barack Obama today declared his support for gay marriage, an announcement fraught with history that also injects a potentially polarizing issue into the 2012 race for the White House. "I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient," Obama told ABC during an interview at the White House. "I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word 'marriage' was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth." Now, he says, "it is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married." Read the full story from The Associated Press here.

Up against a wall: The National Parks Service has asked the Army to weigh in on whether two sites where levees failed during Hurricane Katrina should be added to the National Registry of Historic Places. An advocacy group, Levees.Org, has been working since 2010 to get the historic designation for the breach sites in New Orleans. The Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over one site and therefore gets to submit its opinion on whether the sites qualify for the register. But last month, an assistant secretary of the Army declined to offer an immediate opinion, saying the issues involved require consultation with federal government lawyers because they figure into lawsuits filed over the 2005 flooding. Now the Parks Service has given the Army 15 days to submit an opinion.

The payoff pitch: SeNSE is hosting its 13th Pitch Night for entrepreneurs and business owners across Louisiana at the Manship Theatre on Thursday, May 31, and is calling for submissions of business plans of all types to be considered for participation. Ideas can be submitted here through close of business Friday. Each entrepreneur selected to participate will have 10 minutes to pitch his or her idea to a panel of judges and a live audience. The event is free to attend, and tickets can be obtained here.

No 'Capitol Views' column today

John Maginnis is out today and his Capitol Views column on the legislative session will resume upon his return.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting is providing a daily video update featuring highlights of the session, which you can see beginning at 6 p.m. here.

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